Jason Chung, better known as Nosaj Thing, took his visual show on the road to Europe for the first time in June. Just before the show’ debut at Sonar Festival in Barcelona, Jason sat down with Cyclic Defrost to talk about visuals, his approach to songwriting, and his collaboration with Jon Hopkins.
Have you always wanted to explore the concept of a visual show?
It’s tough to perform electronic music. I’ve seen a few acts; one of them who really inspired me was Cornelius and it just made me feel like they didn’ really create a show or a concert, it was more of an experience, and that’s basically what I wanted to create, so I collaborated with a visual team called Fair Enough based in LA, and created the show.
So is it a synced show?
Basically they created an animation for each part of every song so there’ an intro, say for pop music – intro, verse, chorus, whatever – and so they created an animation for each part. And what they do is they trigger each part live, kind of what I’m doing with my software.
This is the first show you’ve done in Europe… how does the visual show translate from space to space?
Depending on the space, just the room size, there’ a different feel. That’s the challenge of it – we have to have photos and dimensions of the room before we do it, that’s the only thing that’s tough.
Do you find the show to be less immersive when you’re in a bigger space?
I think so, yeah.
I saw this tweet on your Twitter account talking about a collaboration with Jon Hopkins in the works, tell me about that.
Oh yeah! We met in the States, we played a show together and I never heard his music, he never heard my music, and after we both played we were like â€œOh hey,â€ we have a kind of similar aesthetic I think. So he sent me an email and said â€œHey we should do something togetherâ€ so when I was in London [in early June]I went over to his studio and talked about things, sent some ideas back and forth.
It seems like your aesthetic is really matched, he does a visual show as well.
I haven’ seen his show, but yeah I think we have a few similarities.
So there’ a release coming out of it?
We’ll see how it goes.
From the outside, the West Coast sound and the Low End Theory crew seems to be really tight. Being inside it do you feel like there’ a cohesive movement?
Yeah definitely. All the guys over there, we just call it â€œbeat musicâ€. You know there’ all these silly names out there for it, but I think it’s a really progressive and healthy scene right now and everyone’ just kind of doing their own thing.
I know Flying Lotus has talked about the geography of LA being a big part in making his music, so when he’d made a tune he’d go out and listen to it really loud in his car.
Yeah I do that, I call it a test run – in LA everyone is driving all the time and I think that kind of plays a part of the music too. You’re just always in your own space, in your own little bubble so it’s like, it’s a different experience. Most of the people there listen to music in their cars.
To me your sound is not so much about the beat first, but it’s the mood, it’s the melody and then the beat perhaps comes in not as an afterthought, but to complement it. Is that how it works for you?
Yeah exactly! That’s exactly how I work. When I have an idea for a song I just start with sound design to express the kind of mood I’m in. Writing music to me is very therapeutic. I start with the melody or the chord progressions or the sound textures and then I build on them.
I create a timbre that I really like and I just build from there. It’s as simple as that, I don’ really think too much when I write music. But over the years I’ve been taking a lot longer to write songs because I just want to make sure they are good and I really like them. So what I do is I create these different folders of ideas and sort them, prioritise them, and I give it a test – a couple of weeks later if I listen to it and it still sounds good to me, I finish it.
It seems like you leave a lot of space in your work for things to breathe individually.
I’m conscious of that too. A lot of the times when I write a song and listen to it I just try to take out things and make it as simple as possible. I think it’s also a part of what I grew up with, like “90s hip-hop, pop music and if you listen to all that it’s pretty simple and I just like to try to convey those emotions in the simplest form possible.
As for the remixes you’ve done lately, and the remix album that’s coming out later this year, are people approaching you more for remixes or are you doing it and then going â€œHey this is what I’ve doneâ€?
Whenever there’ an inquiry I just check out the song. If I like it, I do it. There’ some unofficial remixes that I just like to do for fun, like the Drake one for example. But then for this remix project, for Drift, I just approached artists that I really liked. So far we have Dntel – he makes really beautiful music. We’ve got Dorian Concept, this band from Toronto called Holy Fuck, Daedelus… that’s probably enough names!
Is the visual show the way forward?
I’d like to, ideally. I mean, every show should be a visual show but there’ always logistical issues, but we’ll see where it goes.